Poor families are facing a learning “levy” which excludes children from deprived homes at school, it has been claimed, amid concerns about deepening child poverty. 

The Glasgow-based Child Poverty Action Group is calling for the Scottish Government to increase child benefit by £5 a week, and tackle the financial barriers to learning caused by the cost of school books, transport, uniforms, lunches and trips. 

The call came amid warnings that the average poor family has drifted further below the poverty line, with an average weekly income now £55.60 below the poverty threshold. 

The charity said the poverty “gap” had grown by 9.4 per cent from £50.80 three years ago.

Ahead of the publication of the Scottish and UK Government’s annual child poverty statistics, CPAG Scotland called for the introduction of a Child Poverty Act for Scotland. This would provide a framework for the prevention, reduction and eradication of child poverty in Scotland.

CPAG Scotland demanded a public commitment to eradicating child poverty and said using new social security powers to top-up child benefit by £5 a week could on its own lift 30,000 children out of poverty.

Independent estimates suggest that without action, the number of children living in poverty in the UK will increase by 50 per cent, said CPAG director John Dickie.

He added: “This financial squeeze on low income families, including those in work, has meant that more families are missing out on the basics in life. More than one in five parents on low incomes can’t keep their home in a decent state of repair or pay for home contents insurance. Almost a quarter don’t have the money to fix or replace a broken fridge or washing machine.” 

The research highlights the range of effects on children’s experiences attributable to poverty, including affecting their ability to make friends and take full advantage of educational opportunities. 

Angela Constance, cabinet secretary for communities, social security and equalities, said: “We share CPAG’s concerns and believe that UK Government delays to benefits, increased benefit sanctions, and continued cuts have pushed people – including many families with young children – into crisis situations on a daily or weekly basis. 

“We are being forced to spend £100 million a year tackling the effects of UK Government cuts and keep people at a standing position, rather than being able to use our resources to lift people out of poverty.”

Addressing the calls to top up benefits, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are currently working on developing our approach to social security and this year we will be consulting on a Social Security Bill which will be the foundation for how we use our new [devolved] powers. 

“Clearly this is set against the backdrop of a tough financial climate and difficult decisions will be needed to ensure we deliver an affordable, deliverable system that best meets the needs of everyone in Scotland. We are committed to delivering, as a priority, the safe and secure transfer of the new devolved benefits and to building a social security system for Scotland founded on dignity and respect.”